Casino gambling in the Bahamas has long been a subject of great mystery and intrigue. While the island nation does indeed have casino gambling, the rules surrounding its existence are confusing and can be traced back many, many decades. Nowadays the gambling industry is thriving and does well to complement a flourishing tourism industry, but it was not always that way.
To truly think about Bahamian gambling accurately, you have to break it down into two different segments. On one side, you have the resort hotels that offer a casino as nothing more than an amenity for visitors. Though there are only a handful of these in existence, this is what the Bahamian casino scene is like. On the other hand, you have the Numbers Men who are nothing more than back-alley street casinos that cater to the islands’ natives.
If you go back to the early 20th century, gambling—in its multitude forms—was banned in the Bahamas. By the time Prohibition hit the United States full force in the 1920s, the Bahamas strategically altered their stance on gambling. Though, by law, casino-style gambling was very much illegal, a few locales began popping up, offering gambling to a very specific, often American selection of tourists. This seemed like a blatant disregard for the country’s laws, and it was, but the fact of the matter was that the allowance of drinking and gambling brought a lot of US dollars to an island whose economy was far from stable.
By 1967, and after clearly seeing how state actions flew in the face of state law, the Bahamian government allowed for the licensure of a few casinos, ones that would cater almost exclusively to tourists. The government made sure of this by restricting access to the casinos to any Bahamian citizen. Instead, only visitors to the island as well as non-citizen residents were able to enjoy what the casinos had to offer. There were many changes attempted to be made to the gambling landscape in the Bahamas, but the fact of the matter is that the Bahamian government did not want casino gambling to be a permanent mainstay. Attempt after attempt was made to increase the number of casinos as well as the number of people which they served, but time and time again those attempts ended without and success.
To this day, the casino industry in the Bahamas exists in the strangest of ways, with citizens still unable to gamble, and with the number of casinos tightly controlled by the government. Citizens do participate in their own, rudimentary forms of gambling, but there is no room for them on the floors of the growing number of brick and mortar establishments.
Resort hotel and casinos such as Atlantis, Baha Mar, and Bimini (to name a few) cater to the many millions of visitors that the island nation takes in on a daily basis. The deeply religious culture of the Bahamas is something that will likely prevent them from ever becoming fully open to casino gambling, but we have slowly but surely seen an erosion with regard to exactly that. What was once a staunch position against casino gambling has now slowly but surely opened up. Only time will tell what the future holds.